Healing Line

Healing Line

What I Needed to Hear

by Francis MacNutt
Jan/Feb/Mar 2013

Back when I was still a Dominican priest, I lived in an old house (built around 1904 in the time of the St. Louis World Fair) which we named Merton House. It was during the time when I was traveling and preaching about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit all over the world. Those were exciting days: for example, my team spent six weeks preaching in six different cities in Nigeria. Merton House was the place I would come back to, to rest up and pray. A team of sisters lived there and they had a ministry to our neighbors. Merton House was in an old neighborhood — four blocks north of the new Catholic Cathedral on Lindell Boulevard and was generally considered to be a dangerous neighborhood, although in the fifteen years we were there the only crime we ever knew was when a visitor stole a small radio. When we let our neighbors learn that a little radio had been stolen they put the word out in the neighborhood and the radio reappeared as mysteriously as it had disappeared. We had kept a low–key presence where neighbors felt at home and after a couple of years they told us that crime in the area had gone down by about half. Every afternoon about five o'clock we had Mass and people would stop by to receive healing prayer. On Saturday nights I would go out to the Visitation Academy, a girls' high school which had a beautiful chapel which became the place where our charismatic prayer meeting would meet with about 300 people. This became a place where many people experienced the baptism of the Spirit and received prayers for healing the sick. Many priests and sisters, especially from St. Louis University, came to the Saturday meetings and were baptized in the Spirit, which made St. Louis unusual — the number of priests in leadership was extraordinary and many priests and sisters became actively involved and most parishes had a charismatic prayer meeting. In comparison to most cities the number of parishes involved was extraordinary. For instance we held a healing service on a Palm Sunday afternoon, and 60 priests came to the Benedictine school (the Priory School) to pray for the sick. Perhaps you know how difficult it is to get a priest or minister to do something extra on Sunday afternoon after already leading a service or two on that Sunday morning, and so getting 60 priests to dedicate an afternoon to putting on an extra service shows what a dedicated cadre we had in those days.

Anyway, many priests, ministers, and sisters visited Merton House for prayer and spirited discussion. A fellow priest, Father Ralph Rogawski from my own Dominican Order, was one of them. Ralph was a missionary in Bolivia, working with the poor in Cochabamba. Like many missionaries, he felt uncomfortable coming back to the States on vacation; and Ralph and several other missionaries did not feel at home staying in a traditional parish or priory. But Ralph did feel at home at Merton House and so he would come to St. Louis and spend a week to rest at Merton House. To him it was like home.

Ralph was at Merton House this one particular time and after staying about a week, he took me aside and said, "Frank, I've got something I want to tell you and it's so important that I want to set aside a time to talk with you — it'll take about an hour to tell you what I need to say before I go back to South America."

Now, my whole experience in life has been that when someone wants to sit you down and tell you something, it's usually bad news — some kind of serious criticism.

Because I respected Ralph, I figured that I should make the appointment, but I certainly didn't look forward to it. If someone wants to sit you down, it must be pretty bad, and I couldn't help wondering what the unhappy observation could possibly be. I knew Ralph would be worth listening to, so I set aside a time one evening after dinner, when he would be a little more mellow than usual. We made time to meet in our community room; what he said to me was unforgettable.

What Ralph said was that he knew that I had become famous because of the healings that took place when I prayed.

"But, Frank," he said," I want you to hear this: your greatest gift is not praying for healing, although many people think that it is. No, your gift is really in bringing people together who usually are apart. This comes so naturally to you that you may not even notice it. But you can talk to groups that most people can't. For example, you are an American and you don't know Spanish. Most Americans with your background can't get a hearing in Latin American — even if they do know Spanish. But yet people in South America want to hear whatever you have to say. That's a really unusual God–given gift. It comes so easily to you that you probably don't even notice it."

When I heard Ralph say this, I realized he was telling me something that I really wasn't particularly aware of. (I also remembered that one of the many titles of the Pope was the "Pontifex Maximus," translated as the "great bridge–builder.") I knew that what Ralph said was true and that I should be thankful that Ralph made a special effort to let me know.

Ralph died last year and I want to thank him, hopefully in heaven, for doing something which is very rare in my experience: taking time to take a friend aside and telling him a great and true compliment, which is not just for something he had done, but for something he is — some aspect of his character. In other words, not something I did, but who he thinks I am.

What I'd like to encourage you to do is to speak up to someone you know and you tell them out loud how much you appreciate them. That's the most healing thing you can ever do for someone.

I remember back in 1972 there was a movement among some Christian leaders in the Renewal to refuse to allow applause after they gave a talk, because all praise really belongs to God. I always believed that this was too severe. The applause the speaker receives is really the only way a large group can say to a speaker, "Thank you" or "We love you."

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jan/Feb/Mar 2013